If the A's plan to repeat as American League West champions, they could surely do themselves a favor by hitting better with runners in scoring position.
The A's ranked second-to-last in the American League in 2006 in average with runners in scoring position (.243). Monday's 4-0 season-opening loss to the Seattle Mariners was not the start they wanted in that department.
Baserunners were tough to come by, period, for the A's against dominant right-hander Felix Hernandez, who surrendered just three hits. The A's wasted what few opportunities they did have. In the top of the sixth, the A's moved a runner to third base with one out. Jason Kendall went down swinging, and Shannon Stewart did the same to end the threat.
Improving the team's clutch hitting was an emphasis for incoming manager Bob Geren when spring training opened. A separate hitting station was set up during camp solely to emphasize hitting with runners in scoring position. New hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo has said he believes the key to good clutch hitting is that a player step to the plate with the mentality that he is going to succeed one way or another.
To stay on top of the AL West again, the A's need to improve in this department, otherwise their pitching staff will be carrying an unfair amount of the workload.
MARINERS 4, A'S 0: Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez allowed just three hits and struck out a career-high 12 over eight innings, keeping the A's off balance with a mix of high velocity and deceptive off-speed stuff. An error by shortstop Bobby Crosby on a throw from pitcher Dan Haren foiled what would have been an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the sixth. Raul Ibanez delivered a sacrifice fly and Richie Sexson followed with a three-run homer off Haren to account for all the scoring Seattle needed.
--C Jason Kendall needs to show he still belongs in the leadoff spot. He started his 2007 season by going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in Monday's 4-0 loss to Seattle. The A's offseason acquisition of Shannon Stewart means the team has another option at leadoff if Kendall falters.
--RHP Dan Haren stumbled in his delivery during the sixth inning against the Mariners on Monday and was examined by the A's medical staff for a few moments. He stayed in the game to finish the inning and said afterward he was fine, adding he had tweaked his hip flexor. The A's can hardly afford to lose an integral part of their rotation such as Haren.
--RHP Esteban Loaiza's stay on the disabled list might be an extended one. He did not throw a bullpen session Monday, as was hoped, and said he will not pitch in a minor league game Thursday. Loaiza is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right trapezius muscle. He was hoping to be ready to make his return on April 10 against the Chicago White Sox, but that seems unlikely. He is supposed to return to the Bay Area on Tuesday to see a doctor.
--1B Dan Johnson likely will be re-examined by a doctor in the middle of next week, according to manager Bob Geren. Johnson is expected to be out until at least July with a torn labrum in his left hip, suffered last week in exhibition play. Johnson was slated to be the A's starting first baseman entering Opening Day, but Nick Swisher is filling in.
--OF Travis Buck, who hails from Richland, Wash., had a throng of people at Monday's game against Seattle, his first career major league game. Buck, 23, made the A's roster though he's beginning just his second full season of pro ball. Buck went 1 for 3, doubling to center with two strikeouts against Felix Hernandez. "Me and Alan Embree, whatever (tickets) he hasn't taken, I have," said Buck, referring to his teammate and fellow Washington resident.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- The number of games the A's play to start the season before their first scheduled day off.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Obviously I'm very shocked. But it's a very exciting day for me." -- Outfielder Travis Buck, who made the A's roster in just his second pro season.